Is my cow getting enough to eat?
That is the question I wish people would ask instead of – “Does my cow look too skinny?” By the time your cow is thin, it hard to get her back into condition. You need to look each day and see if your cow is getting enough to eat. I move my cows to fresh pasture each day during the grazing season and I get a chance to look at them. Am I allotting enough grass? Are they chewing their cud when I arrive, or do they call out when they hear me coming. The first means they aren’t too hungry, the second means that I didn’t give them a large enough paddock. I look at the cows, and see if their left side is sunken in, if it is, they aren’t getting enough to eat. The place to look is below the hip bone and short ribs.
Just after paddock shift – they are getting down to the business of grazing, but their sides aren’t sunken in. So I gave them enough grass the previous day. If this was spring and the grass was lush, I would be checking the same place for bloat.
Della’s right side – cows are usually sunken in on the right side, make sure when you are assessing your cow that you are looking on the rumen (left) side. It’s easy to make the mistake of looking at a cows gut and thinking they are fat. Forget the gut, they don’t eat at McDonald’s, they get eaten at McDonald’s. Mentally cut the cow in half horizontally, and concentrate your gaze above the gut. You all remember this post showing how large the digestive tract of a cow is.
I am still moving through my stockpiled grass. This is just after a paddock move. The calves creep feed out ahead of the cows since I leave the wire high enough to allow this. When it is time to move the cows, the calves are usually in the next paddock waiting.
This shows the green undergrowth, the grass is 2 feet tall, very thick and hard to walk through. Lots of seed heads for energy and if they aren’t eaten, the seeds are trampled into the soil to add to the seed bank.
Just grazed. Eaten, trampled and fertilized.
The cow birds do a great job scratching through the cow pies in search of fly larvae.
A close-up of the trampled grasses. If we can get this High Density Grazing fully implemented, I can see us doing much less composting of animal manures. The cows are harvesting more of their own feed, and fertilizing it as they go. Less fuel and carbon to buy, less hay to make, and less compost to spread just because I am building a fence everyday. But change does not come overnight – but it is a worthy goal. Our neighbors have been wondering why we didn’t cut this field for hay – if we did, we would be out of grass and would have to feed the hay. So how much sense does that make? Work like dogs to harvest the hay just to haul it in the barn and then back out? How I wish my brother was alive to see this!